#Japanese Kanji and Women

Today I’d like to talk about a couple of kanji which are not that friendly to women (even if I have to admit that I laughed the first time I saw them!)

Little Introduction to Kanji

For those of you who are not familiar with Japanese I’ll do a little introduction, without academic purposes: there are two kinds of alphabets in Japanese (even if it would be more appropriate to speak about syllabary), hiragana and katakana. The first one is used for grammatical purposes (particles, conjunctions, adverbs etc) and the second one is used in order to transcribe words coming from a foreign language (but also for onomatopoeia, emphasis and so on) In addiction to these two syllabaries (which are similar to our alphabet, that is to a character corresponds a vowel or a syllable) there is the kanji system. Every kanji charachter has two readings, one called kun, used when the kanji appears alone and one called on, which is the pronunciation of Chinese origin (my teacher always says “the Chinese people said shan but we heard san so today we keep saying san!”) Just one example: 食べる means to eat. 食 is the kanji for eating and food. Here it is pronunced ta because it is used alone as verb. In the word for meal 食事 (shokuji) it is pronunced sho because it is in combination with another kanji. One really gets crazy.

Kanji and 女の人

Actually kanji are used in a very logical way: (ki) is tree; 木本 (two trees, pron. mokuhon) is wood and (three trees, pron. mori) is forest. So here we come to our first kanji:

姦しい

if women is 女, three women together give us the adjective 姦しい (kashimashii) which means noisy. Really logical indeed.

家内

But let’s keep following this misogynistic track: the word for my wife is 家内 (kanai). If we analyse the two kanji we have house and inside: who’s inside the house? My wife.

彼女

This kanji here means he 彼 (kare). The kanji for she is 彼女 (kanojo). If we take the two kanji separately it is he+woman: there isn’t a kanji for she alone, you have to write he-woman.

安い

This is the adjective 安い (yasui) which means cheap. The kanji is composed by a roof and a woman: a woman under a roof is cheap. (yes I know, this one is really mean).

始める

the verb hajimeru, to begin. Our teacher said to remember the kanji this way: one woman always starts a discussion with a nose and a mouth (the kanji for mouth is 口)

妨げる, 嫌う, 妬む

This magical mean trio of verbs, whose readings are respectively samatageru (disturb) kirau (hate) and netamu (to be jealous), all contain the radical for woman (especially the last one is very symbolic, a woman with a stone).

Last but not the least: this kanji read yatsu means slave and it starts with the radical for woman.

A past still there in the language

This article does not want to offend women in any way: I just wanted to reflect on how, in the modern language, there are still traces of the role of women in the archaic Japan. There are not only negative meanings associated to the kanji for women: the verb to like (which in Japanese is actually an adjective but I don’t want to talk about grammar here) is 好き (suki), which is a woman with a child; 娯楽 (goraku) means pleasure and it has the radical for woman as well as the adjective 妙, myou (even if it means superb, magnificent it also has the meaning strange, unusual). In Japanese it is also used the politically correct language: for example instead of 家内 is used the word 奥さん(okusan), which is more neutral. Actually the condition of women in Japan is not similar to the one of western women: our teacher told us that is very usual that in an office in Japan it is the woman who has to make copies or prepare tee (because women must do those kind of things). I repeat once more: I don’t want to discussion about the role of woman in society but just see it from a linguistical point of view: this issue is present in every language (in Germany women lament the fact that the impersonal grammatical proposition man sounds like mann). The thing is that being the Japanese language more visual in comparison with other languages these pecurialities are more visible. So dear women, don’t take it seriously, just sing Beyoncée when you’re in Japan and you’ll be fine.

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